The basic premise of Also An Octopus is this: ‘Even the most totally awesome story starts with a little bit of nothing.’
The debut work from Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, is a solid piece of metafiction – even somewhat postmodernist – but still aimed squarely at the nursery / early primary bracket. Endlessly imaginative, it deconstructs the different elements of a story in a fun and fast-paced way that is bound to engage with its target audience. The conversational narrative introduces us to a teal-coloured, dry-humoured octopus that plays the ukulele, frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak its mind, and wants to build a purple spaceship out of various paraphernalia, including glue, glitter and…waffles. Even its new found rabbit friend is no help, and the octopus loses heart – telling the reader, “The word you’re looking for is DESPONDENT.” But ultimately the day is saved by the power of music, as brought on by its ukulele-playing skills.
The text is already a lot of fun on its own, but the gorgeous illustrations provided by Benji Davies serve to further bring the story to life. The colour scheme he uses consists mostly of purple, yellow and blue, and appropriately bright shades into the bargain. Fleshing out the title character is something Davies manages particularly well – along with the colour scheme and dry humour, the octopus is a smiley, cuddly, welcoming figure. He conveys both its enthusiasm and despondency well by turn, and the level of detail brought to each page – particularly in the build-up towards the story’s resolution – is certainly worth noting.
Yes, even for a children’s book the plot proves to be utterly bonkers, but that’s the whole point – and the resolution to the octopus’ predicament is no less leftfield, but still satisfying and highly amusing. In terms of new children’s writers, Maggie Tokuda-Hall is definitely one to watch.
All images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies.
Also an Octopus, published by Walker Books, is out now.